Space law
Space economy

Orbital and suborbital flights


The global space industry is growing and evolving. However, it faces challenges relating to sustainability. This article provides an overview of space law and the space economy and outlines a future direction for the space industry: orbital and suborbital flights.

Space law

Initially, there was no legal instrument regulating space exploration. Therefore, international doctrine assumed the use of customary norms.

The United Nations General Assembly provided guidelines for the regulation of outer space through Resolution 1962-XVIII of 13 December 1963. The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space is the forum for the development of international space law. The committee has developed five international treaties and five sets of principles on space-related activities. The five treaties developed by the committee are:

  • the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies;
  • the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts, and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space;
  • the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects;
  • the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space; and
  • the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies;

These five treaties address issues such as:

  • non-appropriation of outer space by any one country;
  • arms control;
  • freedom of exploration;
  • liability for damage caused by space objects;
  • the safety and rescue of spacecraft and astronauts;
  • the prevention of harmful interference with space activities;
  • the environment;
  • the notification and registration of space activities;
  • scientific investigation and exploitation of natural resources in outer space; and
  • the settlement of disputes.

The five treaties developed by the committee are:

  • the Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Uses of Outer Space;
  • the Principles Governing the Use by States of Artificial Earth Satellites for International Direct Television Broadcasting;
  • the Principles Relating to Remote Sensing of the Earth from Outer Space;
  • The Principles Relevant to the Use of Nuclear Power Sources in Outer Space; and
  • the Declaration on International Cooperation in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space for the Benefit and in the Interest of All States, Taking into Particular Account the Needs of Developing Countries.

Europe has become one of the leaders in space exploration in recent years. Article 189 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union gives the European Union competence for all matters relating to space.

To date, however, there are still regulatory gaps in this area. Indeed, given the evolving technologies, a review of the regulations governing space is becoming increasingly important. For example, the regulations do not address the delimitation of what is generally referred to as "space". This question is becoming more relevant due to developments in suborbital and orbital flights.

Space economy

"Space economy" is the industrial and financial sector aimed at the creation and use of goods and services and the exploitation of resources in the outer space environment. It represents one of the most promising development paths for the world economy in the coming decades.

In recent years, space has established itself as an essential resource for earth monitoring and observation, telecoms and geolocation services. Satellite services and the data collected therefrom become assets that, in combination with the potential of the digital economy, can anticipate society's needs – space technologies and innovations are having a positive impact on people's lives.

The space sector was predominantly supported by state institutions. With the advent of the so-called "new space economy", the space sector is witnessing an ambitious intervention by private investors. OneWeb, SpaceX, Planet, Spire and Amazon have launched 10% of the total number of satellites since 2016, but 200 smaller companies are partnering with them and preparing to launch 25,000 satellites in the next four years.

Orbital and suborbital flights

With the Space Shuttle's retirement in 2011, the global aerospace industry began to focus on new technologies to develop an innovative line of reusable space vehicles as a new means of transport. Commercial companies started to get heavily involved.

In this respect, Virgin Galactic has developed what is now known as "SpaceShipTwo", a shuttle engaged in suborbital flights intended for "space tourism" (ie, human space travel for recreational purposes). The shuttle reaches an altitude of 112 kilometres, allowing people to enjoy microgravity and see the Earth's curvature.

Although space tourism was initially a huge success, it does not appear to have a bright future because of factors including:

  • the overpriced flights;
  • the health risks of microgravity;
  • the insufficient physical training of travellers;
  • the disappointment of seeing little more than from a normal aircraft; and
  • the environmental impact of flights for purely recreational purposes.

The real potential of suborbital and orbital flights is different. This type of flight presents opportunities including:

  • space travel;
  • the possibility of bringing a large number of scientific payloads into space; and
  • the opportunity to release into orbit an increasing number of satellites, which are fundamental to daily life on Earth and promising from a commercial perspective, given the inevitable expansion of the space economy.

The Cryptaliae Spaceport in Grottaglie, Italy, is the only infrastructural premises specifically prepared for the development of a spaceplane that is capable of travelling from one place to another. Upon creation of this type of technology, it will be possible to take off from the Cryptaliae Spaceport and land in Tokyo two hours later, with minimal impact on the environment.

Cryptaliae Spaceport is where suborbital flights of the near future are expected to start. Suborbital and orbital flights represent the imminent evolution of means of transport, which have gone first from land or sea to the air, and now from the air to the highest levels of the atmosphere.

For further information on this topic please contact Laura Pierallini or Sofia Rinaldi at Pierallini Studio Legale by telephone (+39 06 88 41 713) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]). Pierallini Studio Legale website can be accessed at www.studiopierallini.it.